Caring for sweet senior and ailing pups inspired this New Orleans couple to engineer a better solution for mobility and upstairs/downstairs cuddles.

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Three adult pugs look at camera while sitting on bed
Credit: Courtesy of Sonya Karimi / Instagram

Almost every pet parent will go to great lengths to make their beloved furry friends more comfortable, from crafting a protective helmet for a puppy to outfitting an alpaca with a wheelchair. To make life easier for their special needs' dogs, Sonya Karimi and fiancé Zach Grate used pandemic downtime to create a totally cool 'doggie-vator' in their New Orleans home.

Their pack of rescues includes George, 13, a pug with arthritis; Bodhi, 10, also a pug, with a torn ACL; Sam, 10, a Boston terrier with bone spurs who's Bodhi's "bonded brother"; and young girl Emery, 4, also a pug. Karimi and Grate always carried George and Bodhi up and down the stairs, but poor Sam's condition made it too uncomfortable for him to be picked up.

"George, our oldest rescue, has mobility completely affected by arthritis, so he would just stand at the top or bottom of the stairs and look down or up," Karimi tells Daily Paws. "Bodhi could technically do the stairs, but they were obviously difficult and uncomfortable for him."

As an occupational therapist, Karimi says much of her work involves creating solutions to everyday problems and maximizing an individual's independence. So her a-ha moment for helping her senior dogs stemmed from how she enables people. "I thought about how the elderly with limited mobility use a stairlift to assist getting up a flight of stairs," she says. "Then tried to figure out how to incorporate that concept into a pet-friendly version, which led me to think about attaching a ramp."

Take a Peek at the DIY Doggie-Vator!

One pandemic, two retired engineers (Grate's parents), and roughly three months later, Karimi's vision became reality. The four humans used time sheltering-in-place to tap into their innovative energy as to how the stairlift might function. She provides a few details:  

  1. The track is  2’ x 12’ boards attached together and lined up along the stairs. Scrap boards formed the ramp. 
  2. A winch pulls and releases the elevator carriage on a metal track. 
  3. Grate’s parents positioned the winch underneath the stairs in a pantry, then drilled a hole into a stair board as an entrypoint for the machine’s wiring. 

And it works like a charm!

Karimi says she's delighted by how excited her dogs are to use it. "Especially Bodhi! He walks right into the cart, plops down, and stares ahead like Washington crossing the Delaware!" she says. "He still makes me laugh everytime I see his face while riding it because he always looks so happy!"

In time, Karimi and Grate want to eventually paint the whole apparatus to look like one of the famed New Orleans' streetcars. But for now, they're developing another project: the rescheduling of their COVID-postponed wedding, featuring their precious pooches as flower girl/boys and ring bearers

Karimi offers great encouragement to other pet parents who want to make a better life for their animal pals. "Don't ever let your vision be hindered by your personal capability," she says. "Use the power of teamwork and each individuals' strengths to come up with a plan. 

If you want to see more about how the doggie-vator works, check out this longer video. It appears the pups consider rewarding treats secondary (whaaa?) to a fun ride!